Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 5: Lie

lie

/lī/

noun

1. a statement that is intentionally false and is said out of deception.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

“Well, that’s the last box,” Amy announced, hands on her hips, looking boastfully around her now empty yard that once held all my luggage. She pulled her thick brown hair into a ponytail as she stared around, pleased we were able to clear the large yard before it got too late. I packed generally light, so it didn’t take too long.

Asher stepped from the threshold, returning back from setting the last box down in my new room, flexing his bicep as he made his way towards me. “May I ask why you felt it was necessary to bring an entire box of books with you?”

“Never know when you might run out of reading material.” I shrugged, chuckling at his playful jab.

He shook his head, a close-mouthed smile playing on his lips. “You are the most cliché good girl I think I’ve ever met.”

Rolling my eyes, I moved away from him, heading in my mom’s direction across the yard, firing back, “You’re one to talk about cliché. Where’s your leather jacket, Bad Boy?”

Asher laughed as I tilted my head in the direction of the coat rack inside the entrance room where I had seen it hanging moments before.

Turning away from him, I watched as my mom looked around the house with a heavy expression. Her trip was ultimately getting to her the way it had been getting to me and I knew she was having a hard time with the idea of leaving. Shaking my head, I slumped into her, feeling as she reciprocated the hug whilst burying her head in my shoulder.

“We’ll give you a second,” I heard Asher say, listening to him and Amy as they stepped into the Freed household. Much hesitation was needed to pull apart from my mother’s hug, but we managed.

“Mom, it’s going to be okay.” That was what I had said aloud. In my head, I wondered if months apart from her was going to cause any strain.

She wiped a tear away from her eye, her tone as soft as suede. “I know, but four months is such a long time. By the time I’m back, it’ll be the end of March. I feel like I’m missing everything. Even Christmas and your birthday...”

Her gaze cast downward and I could see the tears brimming her eyes again. I drew her into another hug.

“The time will move quickly. I know it, okay?” She nodded in agreement, but another defying tear fell from her cheek.

“I need to talk to you about something before I leave.” She pulled apart from the hug as she continued with, “Both you and Asher.”

With brows knitted in confusion, I sent her a hesitant nod, listening as she hollered out for my new roommate. When he came out the open front door, she fastened her arms around him in a hug, I’m sure only letting go due to limited time. Shoulder to shoulder, Asher and I watched her, curiosity surfacing both of us.

“Before I go, I need to discuss some things with the two of you.” She looked at her watch, confirming she had time, then back up at us. “You both will be living under the same roof for months and I don’t want any... incidents... between you two.”

I gasped, yes, gasped, aloud at my mother’s indication. Trying to stifle the unsubtle connotation, I whispered, “Mom!”

My mother’s bouncing gaze came to a stop on me. “What, Chloe? You’re both teenagers. And, though...” Her gaze ricocheted again, flickering between Asher and me. “...I know that hormones can be uncontrollable, try to keep things under wraps.”

Rolling my eyes, the discomfort I instantly felt from the topic overplayed any annoyance-led feelings towards my mom for bringing up such a disturbing subject in front of Asher.

He, on the other hand, was attempting to stifle a laugh, utterly unbothered by the strange topic.

“I’m not sure I understand. Could you give us a few examples of what you mean?” he teased, crossing his arms over his chest.

My hand came into contact with his arm in the form of a nudge, doing nothing to unlatch his eyes from my mom nor his smirk from his face. My mom bit her lip nervously, acting nearly as awkward as me.

“You both know what I mean, no need to emphasize it.” She paused her wandering eyes on me. “I’m too young to be a grandma, Chloe. I’m two years away from forty, for God’s sake don’t make me a grandma-”

“Okay! Okay, Mom. You’re going to be late!” I essentially yelled, hoping to dampen the awkwardness. I pulled her into me, giving her a final hug. Nodding, she clung to me for a few more seconds.

Pulling away, she grasped onto both sides of my face. “Remember to be safe! And call whenever you need me. Oh, and get your schoolwork done, and-”

“I’m going to be okay, Mom.”

She nodded, rubbing my cheek with her thumb as her eyes grew teary again. “Oh, I know you are. But if anything happens, anything-”

I cut her off with a nod before she could say anything exposing. “Everything is going to be fine.”

She sighed and kissed my forehead, only getting into her car when she knew she was finally out of time. I smiled, still extremely embarrassed, and waved at the back of her vehicle watching as she slowly made her way down the street.

Once the car had finally turned the corner at the end of the road, the unshed tears of having an absent mom for a few months finally hit me. Feeling Asher’s presence behind me, and my desire to be alone while I emotionally broke down, I avoided eye contact and tried to walk past him.

Before I could leave, he grabbed my forearm and yanked me into his chest, wrapping his arms around me as he rested his head on mine, gently rubbing my arm.

Despite the heaviness in my stomach, it still fluttered at the feeling of his body pressed to mine. Sinking into the warmth, I was appreciative of the simple gesture.

“It’s okay, Dol,” he reassured in a whisper that I nearly believed.

Not understanding the strange comfortability I had with a partial stranger I was now living with, my body melted into his as every muscle of mine lost its tension. And then I cried.

______________________________________

Hours later, I had almost everything in my new room set up. The room had the basics: a bed, a closet, a dresser, even a vanity, although I certainly wasn’t used to the gigantic mirror attached.

Completely unlike my bedroom in my own house, my home away from home was huge. And white. The clean-cut furniture and walls of the unfamiliar living space made my colorful bedroom back home — furnished with random paintings and unnecessary disarray — seem messy. The window, big enough to see the city, made my own look like an eighth in size. Even the luggage I had brought and dispersed around the room looked odd as if the things I owned only cluttered the residence.

I took a seat at the vanity chair, outlining the mirror with my eyes. The entire thing was as white as the rest of the room, but the mirror itself was lined with tiny fluorescent bulbs to allow better lighting. Try as I might, I was unable to avoid my own reflection.

I didn’t look at myself often but when I did, it always startled me who I saw looking back. It was the same physically, but there was always something missing, something I’d lost. My eyes roamed critically from one side of my face to the other, and I realized it really would take time to become used to looking into this giant mirror every day.

“Hey, Dol, you okay?”

Hearing the nickname I was adjusting to, I flipped around in the chair to see Asher leaning against my door jamb. Knowing his question was referring to my breakdown outside, I gave him an awkward nod and looked away, desperate to avoid the ignominious driveway incident.

Whether he could sense I was uncomfortable or was merely finished with talking about my tear-stained episode in front of his house, he crossed his arms with a grin, his playfulness making a resurgence.

“How are you feeling? Any crazy hormones you want to talk about? I know your mom said she was worried about all those uncontrollable feelings of yours but honestly, I am too.” He blinked, his grin spreading into a smile as he gleefully panned down his body. “I truly don’t think you’ll be able to resist me for four months.”

Wanting to laugh, my smirk remained and I shook my head. “I think my hormones are okay right now.” I gently patted different areas on my arms, comically checking for any nonexistent injury. “I will keep you updated,” I promised.

Pleased I’d played along with his lingering joke, Asher chuckled. The vibrations of happiness fell into a peaceful smile and his eyes flickered around my newly decorated room. They lingered for a moment on a shelf of the dresser that I had filled with small snowglobes and knickknacks, things that reminded me of home, but I was content when he looked away from it without commenting.

He drew his eyes to me with slanted brows. “You didn’t bring a lot of stuff.”

I shrugged, glancing at the things I’d packed with me. “I only had so many boxes,” I said as a lousy excuse.

The truth was that I’d always been a light packer. When you moved a lot, you learned quickly what was a necessity and what wasn’t.

He nodded, then smiled kindly. “If you want, I can always drive you back to your house so you can pick up a few more things. Where do you live?”

I swallowed the nervous boulder in my throat. There was no way I could reveal where I truly lived, which was nowhere close to Asher’s high-class area. If he heard the name of my neighborhood, it would take him no time at all to put the lack-of-money pieces together.

Instead of telling the truth, I tilted my head out the window in the opposite direction of my own neighborhood, naming the first one that came to mind. “I live near Presidio Heights.”

I inwardly cringed after naming one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco. The fact that I lived there was impressive, even to Asher.

He smiled, his eyes wide with astonishment. “Oh, that’s not too far. We can always-”

“No, it’s okay!” I nearly yelled, quickly calming myself back down enough to nonchalantly mumble, “I’ve brought everything I need.”

Asher stared at me for a second like I had sprouted a third arm but finally nodded, glancing towards where the stairs were located. “My sister just got home. Want to meet her?”

My eyebrows knitted together, remembering his brightened face when talking about his little sister during our dinner days before. I nodded, following him when he headed out the door. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I noticed the little girl sitting at the granite counter that separated the giant kitchen and the equally giant living room.

Though the size of the room was something I was still getting used to, what caught my attention was the look the little girl gave Asher when her eyes landed on him, her bored expression switching into excitement as she let out a squeal, jumping from the tall chair and running into his arms.

He swooped her off her feet, pulling her into his arms to which she laughed in delight. I smiled at the exchange. Her eyes found mine as her brother laid a kiss on her cheek.

“Primrose, this is Dolphin,” Asher expressed, panning over to me. Her smile transformed into a frown, as did mine, scared I had already done something wrong by merely standing there.

She promptly shook her head in her brother’s direction. “Ash, it’s Prim,” she corrected with a scowl.

Asher sighed, making it apparent this conversation was one of many. “Actually, it’s Primrose. I think I’d know.”

She pouted, giving him puppy dog eyes, similar to those he gave me days prior. If her looks weren’t enough to give away the relation between the two, their puppy eyes were as indistinguishable and powerful as they could be. Seeing those compelling eyes, Asher sighed.

“Maybe I’ll consider calling you Prim.” He placed her back on her feet and crouched in front of her, a smug smirk tilting his lips. “But only if you say the magic phrase.”

Prim pouted again, her eyes ticking over the ceiling before settling on her brother once again, mumbling, “You’re the coolest big brother in the world.”

Asher leaned in, his sneer only widening as a hand went behind his ear. “What was that?”

Visibly slumping, the little girl’s head fell back. More pronounced than before, she grumbled, “You are the coolest big brother in the world.”

Prim let out a shriek as Asher plucked her from the ground a second time, lifting her over his head. “Now that’s more like it, Prim.”

When she was back to standing on her own two feet, I stepped towards the pair, kneeling down to become the height of the small girl. “I think Prim is a wonderful name.”

“I like your name too! Dolphin.” She sounded out every syllable of the word, only expanding my smile from before. “Like the animal!”

“Well,” I mumbled, glaring up at Asher. “That’s more of a nickname. My name’s Chloe.”

“That’s cool too!” She smiled. “Let’s play dress-up. You look a little like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, so you can wear the yellow dress, okay?”

I nodded, content I’d made a good first impression, and watched her bolt up the stairs to grab the dress-up supplies she wanted.

“A warning: it hurts like hell when she starts doing your hair,” Asher insisted from his own personal experience, which made me laugh, before continuing with, “I’ve got to take care of a few things upstairs.”

He turned to leave the room but I frowned, asking, “Like what?”

Facing me, the nefarious smug look was tugged back into place. “What are you, obsessed with me or something?”

I rolled my eyes at his response, my curiosity not at all tamed and, as he watched me, he added, “Try not to roll your eyes so much. People might start to think you have a twitch.”

He didn’t wait for a response, moving up the stairs. I, once again, forced myself not to roll my eyes.

I took in the room while I was alone. Connecting the front door and the kitchen, the entrance room held a small, black leather couch, a coat rack, and a fuzzy-looking white rug. The wall between the door and the couch was nearly covered by a large red abstract painting. There were multiple pairs of shoes near the door, as we were authorized to remove them before coming into the house, but they were all neatly laid.

The stairs were parallel to the entrance room, facing the kitchen, which was eradicated by black and white granite. It looked like no one had ever even cooked in it. With an open-plan layout, the kitchen and the living room were separated by a single kitchen counter. Beige carpet, black couches with red pillows, white tables, and a giant flat-screen television took up the space of the living room.

Everything seemed to follow a black, white and red color scheme, except a single glass table that stood beside a doorjamb leading down another hallway. The table held vacation photos, family albums, and, best of all, a few of Asher’s baby pictures, which led me to the conclusion that he was the cutest baby of all time.

My eyes lingered on a photograph of Asher with an older woman, her hair dark like his, but littered with silvers and grays. I wondered briefly if it was his grandmother. The picture hadn't been taken long before, as Asher looked relatively the same, with slightly longer hair, but they were standing in front of a large swimming pool, laughing, neither of them addressing the camera, just chuckling to each other.

I smiled at the picture, and at the emotion on my roommate's face that didn't involve a smirk or a sneer.

Prim ran down the stairs minutes later, tearing me from my snooping, her arms filled with colorful dresses and headbands. After an hour of being dolled up by the little girl, my petite frame was squeezed into a yellow dress, my face was covered in what I hoped was easy-to-remove makeup, and I was sure the headband, the one meant for a seven-year-old head, was cutting off my brain circulation.

It had begun to sprinkle lightly outside, and I watched the rain through the large window that lined one of the living room walls. Sitting on the carpeted floor beside Prim, I strained my neck to see as much of the backyard from my seated position as possible. All I'd noted was a pool, but that was pretty difficult to miss.

Content in the world filled with dresses and princesses, Prim flattened out her baby blue dress with her hands, tipping her head to look over at me. “You’re going to live here with us for a while, right?”

“Is that okay with you?” Hoping I wasn’t kicked out on the street by a seven-year-old, I was relieved when her head bobbed up and down.

“Yes! You play dress-up with me.” Picking up a messy, pigmented eyeshadow from the ground, she shrugged. “Asher acts like a baby when I do his hair.”

Now I knew why. The bobby pins and clips were digging deep into my skull.

Continuing her small tangent about her older brother, she blurted, “And he calls me Primrose!”

I smiled at her distaste. “Is that your full name?”

Her shoulders dropped overdramatically. “Yeah but only Asher calls me that. He got to pick out my name when I was born.” With a pout in no particular direction, she sighed. “I didn’t even get to pick out his name. It’s so unfair.”

Knowing it was less about fairness and more about the sibling’s twelve-year age gap, I chuckled. “Asher got to pick out your name?”

Nodding solemnly at the question, she reinstated her previous statement. “So unfair.” Reflecting, her gaze found mine again. “And he calls me Weasel. I’m not a weasel!”

“Believe it or not, I’m not a dolphin either,” I shared, to which she laughed.

The confession about her name stilled my heart. Between that and my appreciation towards whatever had happened outside, my views of Asher were swiftly changing.

That pulled a worry from deep within me, one I didn’t even realize I possessed. My mother’s warnings outside the house were beginning to echo in my head, and I wondered if Asher would attempt to get me into his bed like he seemed to do with every other willing girl. Then I wondered if I’d stop him if he tried.

I shook that thought from my head. Of course, I’d stop him. I wasn’t somebody random. I could control my alleged uncontrollable emotions everyone was going on about. I just met him, for God’s sake!

Tearing me from my own thoughts, Prim stood from the floor but moments later, she’d tumbled back down to her knees. She didn’t appear to be in any pain from the jarring slam to the carpet, but she stared down at herself in self-recognition.

Fear that she was injured catapulted all my thoughts of Asher out the open window. I secured my grip on her arm lightly when she stood for a second time, standing with her. “Are you okay?”

She thought for a moment, coming to a conclusion and shaking her head. “Can I sit down on the couch?”

No hesitation hindering my movements, I walked her to the couch, too worried about her to flinch in pain from the dress squeezing my internal organs. Shoulders dropping, she sat, whispering, “Asher’s gonna be so mad at me.”

Wondering how the situation had taken a turn down this complex street, I gently rubbed her arm. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Much paler than she was minutes before, she shook her head again. “Can Asher come back downstairs now?” she whispered.

I wanted to ask more questions about the strange condition she was now in, but she was ostensibly getting paler by the second, and we didn’t have time for twenty questions. I rushed towards the stairs per her request.

“Hey, Ash! Could you come down here, please? Quickly!” I tried to keep my voice even as if I wasn’t freaking out, but when Asher ran down the stairs with a concerned expression, I realized I had failed.

He stepped closer to me, eyeing my attire up and down. “What’s wrong?”

I shouldered towards the couch. “It’s Prim.”

His eyebrows drew together before he blew past me towards his sister. He knelt down next to her, his hand on her forehead to take her temperature and his eyes darting toward the digital clock in the kitchen.

“Prim, did you eat your lunch at your friend’s house?” he questioned in a gentle, but firm voice. Not answering his question, the small girl apologized to him, and the answer was revealed through that. Swearing quite crudely in front of her, Asher shook his head. “How many times do I have to tell you, you can’t keep skipping your lunch-”

Apologetic as ever, Prim’s eyes found her brothers again as she cut him off. “I’m sorry. I forgot. Please don’t tell Mom.”

Confused by the altercation, I watched with narrowed eyes as Asher ignored his sister’s plea, standing and rushing past me into the kitchen, searching through a specific cabinet. Grabbing an ibuprofen container, he opened the fridge a second later and plucked a juice box from the door.

One hand holding both the juice and the bottle, Asher held out his other hand to me. Hesitant on grabbing any part of Asher including the appendage he had offered me, I softly set my hand in his, letting him tow me over to his sister and set me on the couch next to her.

Kneeling in front of her again, he placed the container on the coffee table behind him. When her gaze landed on that container, Prim slumped against the back of the couch. “Asher, I don’t wanna take those.”

Attention cutting between Prim and the medicine, Asher patiently nodded. “I know you hate it, I’m sorry.”

Realizing she had no other choice but this, she studied her brother as he poured two pills into his palm. Turning to look at me, her face softened with relaxation. “Do you have to take medicine too?”

Flicking a glance at Asher, who happened to be flicking a glance at me at the same time, I looked back at Prim carefully. “I do, sometimes. I bet you’re way better at taking it than me.”

In laughter, Prim’s nose wrinkled. “It tastes gross. I don’t like it. It’s all for my glycated hemoglobin.”

The situation was far from funny, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the significant words that had escaped the young girl’s mouth. Pausing from his medication organizing, Asher smiled at his sister, taking a brief glimpse over at me. “Prim, you’re going to end up scaring our guest away with your broad vocabulary.”

Prim looked over at me, her dark eyes full of anxiety. “Don’t leave, please.”

My close-to-rigid heart tugged at her words and, hoping to rid some of her fear, I captured her tiny hand between the two of mine. “I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Handing his sister the medicine she needed to take, he pressed the juice box into her hands in the same breath, observing her as she swallowed each remedy.

Popping a kiss on her head, he asked with a heavy, relieved sigh, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Prim fabricated a frown. “It was horrible.”

“I’m sorry. How about we go to the Creamery and get some ice cream in exchange for you being so awesome about it?” Asher beamed warmly at her and Prim pepped up immediately.

“Can we bring Chloe?” she asked, sounding exuberant.

Asher’s face settled smugly, peeking over at me. “I guess if we have to.”

Not wanting to ruin the moment, I sneered under my breath. With a little aid, Prim hopped off the couch and up the stairs, unable to steady her own excitement for ice cream.

When she was out of sight, the imitated smile left Asher’s face, and he fell from his knees, leaning back against the coffee table. Closing his tired eyes, he swiped the back of his hand over his forehead. Lines of stress twisted onto his face as his eyes opened, coming directly into contact with mine.

Deciding not to leave my silent question unanswered, he let his shoulders rise and fall. “She has diabetes. Type one, to be exact.”

My lips parted slightly, my heart-tugging for the second time in the course of a few minutes.

Noticing my somber expression, his eyes became pools of sincerity as they fell to the floor. “She doesn’t normally have to do all that. Every once in a while, she forgets to eat the lunches we pack. She’s a rebel, that one. Just like her brother.” He chuckled, trying to rid the dour tension.

Striving to dismiss grim thoughts of what the girl had to deal with, I nudged him with my foot, snagging his attention from the floor. “You know, I’m glad I got to see this side of you. Knowing you’re not just an arrogant jerk is very humanizing.”

Snickering at me, the full hearty sound circling through the room, he stood, reaching for my hand to pull me off the couch.

“Don’t let this whole thing fool you. I’m still an arrogant jerk. In fact, I’m a complete jackass.” Glancing down at the princess-themed accessories I was sporting, his smirk was back. “Speaking of which, would you like me to call you a pumpkin carriage, or are you going to change?”

With an eye roll that I knew he was aware was directed at his arrogant jerk-ish nature, I made my way upstairs.

______________________________________

A half an hour later we were entering the restaurant. Any proof I had been playing dress-up was gone, my dress replaced with the regular jeans and a t-shirt. Prim had changed from her outfit as well, exchanging the itchy blue gown for a sunflower dress.

It had stopped raining by the time we were leaving the Freed house, but the winds were still chilled. Due to the San Francisco weather, Asher had forced a sweater onto his little sister, who had been very stubborn about wearing a dress out regardless of the cold.

“I don’t like this sweater.” She squirmed, stomping her tiny foot.

Asher laughed at her dramatics, dragging a hand through her hair and destroying the neat strands. She looked up at him with a glare of disbelief but he didn’t notice, too busy looking around the restaurant to find a table. I began to look around too. With mahogany wood interior walls, walnut wood tables, and dark green leather on every seat, it was the epitome of homey eateries.

Asher grinned, his eyes landing on an empty booth, and he grabbed Prim’s hand to pull her forward. Not wanting to lose me, she reached back, collecting my hand into her free one. When we arrived at the booth, Asher indicated for Prim to get onto the seat. She shook her head.

“I want to sit next to Chloe, please.” She bounced with joy, my hand still in hers. I smiled at her quick attachment to me, happy to sit next to her.

“Weasel, I gotta say, this is a betrayal. I’m heartbroken,” he exaggerated with his hand across his heart. Prim tittered, climbing into the left side of the booth and letting me slid in next to her. Asher ticked his eyes over at me quickly as his amusement exploded by the second and he muttered, “What if I wanted to sit next to Dol?”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “You didn’t even want to sit next to her!”

“Of course I want to sit next to her. I want to be close to her,” he claimed, his eyes flickering off his sister and onto me. His light brown gaze sank into mine as he emphasized, “In fact, I don’t just want to be close to her. I need to be close to her.”

My stomach began to whirl like the ocean during a hurricane as he spoke to me. He tilted his head slightly to the side, a smirk spreading over his once serious expression, and I was suddenly very aware that the things he was saying were leading into something that would soon embarrass me. My assumptions were proven correct when he laughed, muttering, “How else are we going to fornicate?”

The hurricane in my stomach settled, replaced instead with waves of mortification. I gaped at him, peeking towards Prim’s confused face, relieved she had no clue what her brother was going on about.

Looking back at the bearer of my humiliation, I tried to muffle the blush climbing my cheeks, and forced a small smile. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you?”

He had a stupid grin on his face as he answered, “I got you to come out and eat with me again, didn’t I?”

I matched the stupid smile. “I’m glad you’re aware that you’ve used an innocent little girl to get what you wanted.”

Asher chuckled, turning from me to Prim. “What are you gonna get, Weasel?”

He opened her menu and pointed at the kid section of it. She thought for a moment, then shrugged, not doing so much as to glance at the menu. “I’m hungry for mac and cheese, and a peanut butter sandwich, and chocolate ice cream.”

“Then we’ll have to get you all of it.” Asher shrugged nonchalantly.

Instantly worried about ruining the young girl’s appetite for later in the day, I dipped an eyebrow. “You don’t want to spoil whatever your mom’s making for dinner.”

Asher, setting his menu on the table, eyed me as if I had spoken an alien language. “My mom doesn’t make dinner.”

“Oh, sorry. Do you make dinner?” I questioned, hoping I hadn’t offended him with my assumption.

I was confused when his head shook. “No, we don’t really eat dinner. We all kind of pick apart the kitchen at different times during the night until we’re not hungry anymore. There’s not exactly a meal.”

“Oh,” I sounded, suddenly understanding the reason the kitchen looked so untouched.

“Does that disappoint you?” Asher joked, unrolling his silverware with a clatter. I didn’t want to admit it did disappoint me in a way.

“Of course not,” I replied instead. “It’s just... my mom and I used to eat dinner together. I thought everybody did that.”

“Oh.” The foul play in his tone was gone, and I knew he had seen my disappointment regardless of how I’d tried to hide it. Hoping to change the subject as quickly as we had landed on it, I smiled.

“You two are adorable,” I voiced towards the siblings, and Asher grinned, looking over at Prim.

“You hear that?” he sneered in her direction. “Dol thinks I’m adorable. She’s obsessed with me.”

I closed my menu, hitting him with it across the table as he laughed. I smiled as I pulled my menu back open and restarted my compliment. “I mean both of you. You’re quite cute siblings. All my big brother and I do is fight.”

Prim smiled. “You have a big brother too?”

I nodded. My brother, Tate, was a Sophomore in college. We were close in age, and close in general, but the majority of things we did ended with us at each other’s throats. It was how we had always bonded. “Yep, he’s away at college. He goes to UCLA.”

“Oh shit, he’s smart,” Asher commented.

I glanced over at Prim, who was still processing the information I’d given her about my brother, shushing Asher simultaneously.

“Don’t swear.” I jutted my chin at the young child beside me. Asher threw me a questioning expression, the waiter walking up and interrupting his inferred inquiry. Turning to me first, he asked what I’d like.

“Can I please have a chicken sandwich and marble ice cream?” Remembering Prim’s craving for cheese, peanut butter, and chocolate, I began again. “And mac and cheese with chocolate ice cream and a peanut butter sandwich.”

Asher gave a coy grin as he turned to the waiter. “She’ll have the whole menu with that.”

“Shut up!” I whispered through clenched teeth.

The waiter delivered a small smile at the altercation and asked Asher what he wanted, to which he responded, “I’ll have chili cheese fries and bubblegum gummy bear ice cream.”

My mocking tone filling the air, I smashed against the chair backing, announcing, “He’ll have the whole menu with that.”

Asher chuckled at my tease, and the waiter hurried away with our orders. I tended forward onto the table again, my forehead marring as I questioned what he had ordered. “Did you order bubble gum gummy bear ice cream?”

“Yeah.” He raised an eyebrow. “You got a problem with that?”

“I don’t know, are you five?” I shrugged with a blank expression but was unable to stifle my laugh at his childish order.

“You think it’s embarrassing?” he questioned, reading me like I was an open book. “I can be much more embarrassing than that.”

“Please don’t,” I begged him, knowing that if he wanted to really humiliate me, he could. And quite easily at that.

He set both his hands on the table, scooting out from the booth as my eyes went wide. “It seems you’ve left me no choice but to do something that’ll embarrass the both of us.”

And with that, he stood.

On instinct, I curled my hand around his wrist, unsuccessfully attempting to tug him back into his seat.

“Asher! Sit down,” I begged in a whisper, watching his hand slip out from between my fingers as he stepped away from the table.

“Excuse me! Can I get everyone’s attention?” he proclaimed loudly, grabbing the concentration of nearly every person dining. “I wanted to formally introduce every patron here to my new roommate, Dolphin.”

He panned towards me and every gaze in the establishment fell onto me. I froze, wanting to run, but anchored in my seat. Asher began clapping at my expense and his cheers were followed by the entire restaurant as they too began cheering. I had no idea why, and I glared at Asher, wishing he’d sit down and be quiet.

Finally, when the hollers died down and my embarrassment began to fade, Asher sat, allowing everyone to continue their meals, uninterrupted.

I gritted my teeth together, and my heart thumped with what I could only assume was anger. “I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.” His idiotic smile returned. With a straw in hand, he tore off the tip of the straw wrapping, setting it between his lips and blowing the wrapper at his sister. Receiving the small giggle from her he had wanted, his stare returned to me. “Dolphin, it’s all about confidence.”

Prim giggled, setting her own straw between her lips as she copied her brother’s nickname for me. “Exactly, Dolphin!”

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